Eddie Glaude Jr. is one of the nation’s leading black intellectuals. Glaude is often called upon by prominent media outlets such as C-Span and CNN to provide insight on race and black culture. He’s also an award-winning author who has penned several books, including Exodus! Religion, Race, and Nation in Early 19th Century Black America and In a Shade of Blue: Pragmatism and the Politics of Black America.
Glaude currently serves as the chair of Princeton University’s renowned Center for African-American Studies.
During rolling out‘s recent visit to Princeton, Glaude shared his story of rising from humble beginnings to becoming a leading professor at one of the world’s pre-eminent universities. –amir shaw
Let’s discuss your journey. What led you to the Princeton University campus?
My journey to this place is unique. I’m a country boy from Mississippi. I grew up in a working-class home. My mother dropped out of school in the eighth grade and my dad only graduated from high school. But they made sure that education was a priority for my siblings and I.
I attended Morehouse College at 15 years old and I graduated from the class of 1989. I was asked as a graduate student to come to speak at the University of Wisconsin. It was there that Cornel West heard me give a talk on Afrocentrism as a Species of Idealism and he asked me to come study with him at Princeton. I eventually went to Princeton and did my Ph.D. work with him. I went off and taught at Bowdoin College for six years and one year at Amherst. In 2002, Cornel and I were in conversation about me coming back to Princeton and I’ve been here ever since.
Why is it important to have a Center for African-American Studies at an Ivy League institution?
These are crucial centers of education and crucial sites for social capital. It’s really important that you have faculty members who actually represent the true diversity of the student population and the world in which they inhabit. I think it’s important that not only are we here to provide an example, but for the students to see that the best and the brightest [are] varied, it’s not simply old white men here. For our students in particular, it’s really important because these spaces can be very alienating because there’s simply not a lot of us. So, it’s important for us to be here and to provide a source of community as well as mentorship for students who are oftentimes faced with that temptation of doubt.
Why is it important for the top black students across the nation to consider attending an Ivy League school?
Affirmative action is not a question around the local community college. Affirmative action is not an issue even around the nice state school. It’s really about who gets access to these elite spaces that give you access to social capital that give you access to a world that’s unimaginable. The world I live in is something my parents could not imagine. In these sorts of places they don’t hold a monopoly on that, but they make it so much easier. Whether you graduate at the bottom of the class or the top of the class, you come out with a piece of paper that matters.
How can students prepare themselves for the rigorous work at an Ivy League school?
You have to put the work in. You have to keep working hard and really understand that discipline is crucial, imagination is crucial and that commitment to really work hard at making your dream a reality. I don’t mean that to be [a] cliché. I always tell kids that basketball talent is a dime a dozen. All you need to do is go out in the park and you’ll see brothers who can ball. You have to discipline yourself to practice. If you’re disciplined, if you’re imaginative in these early phases, it will pay off in the later phases of your life.